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Sankey Still Sings

by Charles Ludwig

The Power of the Gospel

With their gospel swords drawn, Moody and Sankey advanced on Dundee, January 21, 1874. The first service there was a prayer meeting conducted at the Steeple Church, where a vast audience greeted them and joined in prayer for the salvation of the lost. They prayed until a fire was kindled. The first evangelistic service was held in Kinnard Hall, and although the building seated two thousand, and in spite of the fact that no one could gain entrance without a ticket, the place was full! In the evening, at the regular evangelistic service, so many people came that two meetings had to be held, one at half past five and the other at half past seven.

Many were awakened by the impressive addresses of Mr. Moody, as well as the beautiful hymns sung by Mr. Sankey. His melodious voice, giving such charm to the soul-stirring words, produced a most powerful effect upon the large audience. Hundreds remained to be spoken with, and many gave evidence of having received much blessing.

Their short campaign created such a stir here that they had to return for another series of meetings in June. This second visit caused even a greater revival than the first. No church building would hold the crowds. Sankey sang to between ten and sixteen thousand people every night out in the Barrack Park!

With the triumph of the first Dundee meeting behind them, Moody and Sankey proceeded to Glasgow. The first meeting here was held for Sunday-school teachers and was conducted in the City Hall. Three thousand people turned out. The evening preaching service was announced to begin at six thirty, but one hour before that time City Hall was jammed to the doors and the overflow sent to three neighboring churches, which were also crowded!

A daily noon prayer meeting was started in the United Presbyterian Church. The building accommodated fifteen hundred and was filled at every service. Sankey organized a choir; and their music, together with his solos and "human" hymns, soon put all Glasgow to singing.

One Scotchman went to his pastor after hearing Sankey sing and said, "I cannot do with the hymns. They are all the time in my head, and I cannot get them out. The Psalms never trouble me that way." The minister replied, "Very well, then, I think you should keep the hymns!"

The success of the campaign increased every day. Thousands were converted. The following quotation from the North British Daily Mail will give a small idea of the immensity of the meetings.

During the six days beginning with Tuesday of last week, the suburb of Hillhead was nine times flooded with crowds hurrying to the Crystal Palace. This unique glass house is the largest place of public assembly in Scotland, and can seat about four thousand, while a thousand or two more may be crowded into it. Tuesday evening was for the young women. Hundreds appealed in vain for tickets after 7,500 had been distributed, and hundreds who had them struggled in vain for admission. The building was crowded up to the fainting point, and the meeting was partly spoiled by its numerical success. Wednesday the young men who were ticket holders darkened the Great Western road more than an hour before the time of meeting. All comers were welcome on Thursday, so long as there was any room. In spite of the rain the Palace was filled by seven o'clock, and about one-half the audience seemed to be young men of the middle classes. On Friday the noon prayer meeting was transferred to the Palace, which was comfortably filled with the better, or better-off, classes. Friday evening's meeting was the most significant of the series. Tickets for it were given only to those who, on applying for them in person, declared that they believed themselves to have been converted since January first, and gave their names and addresses and church connection, which information, we are told, is to be forwarded to our several pastors. It was publicly stated that about 3,500 had received tickets on these conditions. As the Americans did not arrive till six weeks after New Year's, and as the tickets were not exclusively for the frequenters of their meetings, it was hardly fair in one of our contemporaries to insinuate that the object was to number and to ticket Moody's converts. The children had their turn on Saturday noon, and the working people at night. On Sunday morning the young women were admitted by ticket, and at six p.m. the Palace was filled both inside and out, as an Irishman would say. While several ministers, along with Mr. Sankey, conducted the services inside, Mr. Moody addressed a crowd in the open air that filled the whole space between the Palace and the gate of the Botanic Gardens. Many hundreds did not even get to the length of the garden gate. The estimates of the vast throng—mere guess work, of course—range from fifteen to thirty thousand.

In the last week of the revival special meetings were held for various groups. This was necessary in order to accommodate the vast throngs. Among the special meetings there was one for new converts.

On Friday evening came the meeting for those who professed to have been converted during the last few months. The tickets for this had only been given to those who placed their names and addresses and the names of their ministers, on a register, opened for the purpose; and of which, they were informed, extracts would be forwarded to the clergymen to whose churches they belonged, thus to prevent thoughtless application for converts' tickets, an ultimate check being established. The Palace was comfortably filled, and the utmost order prevailed. In looking over the assemblage, it was apparent that the great proportion consisted of young people, probably under twenty-five years of age. All were well dressed, clear-eyed people, in the ring of whose voices, when singing the opening hymn of praise, more than the common sound was heard. It was a glorious sight.

Sankey's contribution to these meetings can be seen by the following paragraph taken from the North British Daily Mail.

Mr. Moody is very fortunate in having such a colleague as Mr. Sankey. He has enriched evangelistic work by something approaching the discovery of a new power. He spoils the Egyptians of their finest music, and consecrates it to the service of the tabernacle. Music in his hands is, more than it has yet been, the handmaid of the gospel and the voice of the heart. We have seen many stirred and melted by his singing before a word had been spoken. Indeed, his singing is just a powerful, distinct, and heart-toned way of speaking, that seems often to reach the heart by a short cut, when more speaking might lose the road.

At the conclusion of this campaign the evangelists visited other Scotch cities and saw the conversion of tens of thousands. Then from Scotland they went on to Ireland. The Irish, perhaps harder to convince than others, had heard the old story that the evangelists were on the field in an effort to sell hymnbooks. Unfortunately, many of them believed the stories to be authentic. These reports worried Sankey. But knowing that they were only fabrications, he was able to go ahead and sing from the depths of his heart. His songs, as usual, captivated everyone, even his worst critics. In Belfast, ten to twenty thousand gathered at one service to hear them. Dublin responded by turning out ten thousand strong every night, and by having three thousand converts. At every meeting in which Sankey appeared the people picked up the tunes and repeated them wherever they happened to be.

At a circus in Dublin, on one occasion, one clown said to another, "I am rather Moody tonight; how do you feel?" The other responded, "I feel rather Sankeymonious." This byplay was not only met with hisses, but the whole audience arose and joined with tremendous effect in singing one of our hymns, "Hold the Fort, for I Am Coming."

During his stay in Ireland, Sankey saw a printed pamphlet with the words of the poem entitled, "I Am Praying for You." He sensed its power and wrote music for it. This was the second gospel hymn he composed. It is still in many hymnals and is very popular in revival meetings.

The people who sang and were blessed by these hymns found it difficult to pass on the story that Sankey was in Britain for the sole purpose of selling American organs!

From Ireland, in which on one occasion Sankey sang to "six acres of Irishmen," the evangelists moved on to Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Liverpool. In Liverpool, the city in which they had landed without a friend just a short time ago, they found that a tabernacle with a seating capacity of eleven thousand had been erected for them at a cost of twenty thousand dollars.

At the first meeting, conducted only for Christian workers, between five and six thousand people attended. This was in spite of severe weather. Three thousand were present at the first noonday prayer meeting. By the time the campaign closed, so much interest had been created that on the last day forty-five thousand attended the various services.

From Liverpool the Americans were called to the greatest meetings of their lives.

From Sankey Still Sings by Charles Ludwig. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press, 1947.

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